Reading Food Labels - Making Sense of the Fine Print

Reading Food Labels - Making Sense of the Fine Print” by Health Promotion Board, 20 Feb 2020,

nutritional facts

There are tens of thousands of products on the supermarket shelves all screaming out for your attention. And, the food labels are designed to attract and inform. So, while foods labels are not allowed to deliberately mislead, you need to be real smart to navigate the clever designs that highlight only the good points, while drawing the least attention to the not-so-good points.

Read more on "The Complete Guide to reading Food Labels" ( English /  Chinese ​)

The big picture

By law, every packaged food must have a label. The label must include vital information to help the consumer to make informed food choices. Here are the must-haves:

The name of food

Here's something that will definitely determine if you will buy the product. The product has got to tell you clearly what you, the consumer is buying and that is a basic right. So, if you cannot figure out what is in the package, give it a miss!

To get you to put down your money for the product, the manufacturer must give you the exact description of what it is. If you are buying milk, the product must tell you what kind of milk is in the package. From the descriptor, you need to know if you are buying whole milk, low fat or skimmed, plain or flavoured, regular milk or flavoured milk, chilled milk or UHT product. Satisfied with the description? Now, let's evaluate your choice further.

Make sense of the weight

Bet you want to get more for your money! So, look at the net weight of the package. Then pick another brand of the similar product. Now compare the price and the amount you are getting. You would be wise to go for the most economical choice!

Storage and usage instructions

Made your choice? Now, make sure you treat the product well. To keep food safe to eat and to make sure that the product tastes its best and delivers the nutrients it is supposed to, you must store it as instructed. Read and follow the instructions. Ice-cream must be stored in the freezer while, butter is best placed in the chiller compartment of your refrigerator. If you have bought a healthier product, then follow the preparation instructions as well to make the final product good to eat and good for you.

The manufacturer s details

In this day and age, when we are no longer producing and preparing our own food, we need to be sure about the goodness of the food we choose to eat. Check for the details of the manufacturer or importer. The listing of a reliable company and a trusted brand can give you more reassurance of the safety and nutritional value of the product you bought. And, just in case, you need more information or want to provide feedback, the contact details must be easily available for your convenience.

Know the fine print

Did you think that we have gotten to the end of the checklist? Not yet! The devil is in the detail! But, before we start, here's a quick warning! You may need a magnifying glass or pair of good spectacles to read the fine print, so, remember to carry your tool of choice with your shopping list, cash or credit card!

The ingredient list

This is the section of the label that tells you exactly what is in your food. It details the ingredients starting with the one that is found in the largest amount and works all the way to one found in the least quantity. Now, if you are allergic to an ingredient or have some dietary preferences or restrictions, this list is critical. Of course, pick the one that meets your dietary needs.

The Nutrition Information Panel

Here s where you get the actual nutritional value of your product. The amount of each nutrient, in the product of your choice, is listed in two formats - per 100 g or per 100 ml and per serving. The exact details will take away the guesswork and help you evaluate products objectively and accurately.

Find the better product

Take two similar products off the shelf. Now run through the Nutrition Information Panels on each product and compare the values per 100 g. Generally, the product lower in energy, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium is a healthier choice. If it provides more fibre, vitamins and minerals too, that would be even better!

Find this hard to do? Here are some savvy tips to get you started:

Start out by comparing a few popular brands of your favourite choices in each food category.

To make the process quicker focus on a few key nutrients. If you are trying to lose weight, compare energy values. If you are concerned about your blood pressure, zoom in to the sodium values. If you are worried about osteoporosis, select items with more calcium.

Over time, once you have made your comparisons, you can fill up your healthful grocery cart with greater ease.

Know how much you are eating

If you want to assess the nutritional contribution of a food product to your personal diet, note the nutrient values per serving and compare that to the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA).

Healthier choices, easier choices

Not many Singaporeans have the time and patience to read and compare the Nutrition Information Panels of similar products. There is an easier way to identify healthier food products simply look for the Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS) and Healthier Snack Logo on food labels.

The Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS)

Products carrying the HCS are generally lower in fat, saturated fat, sugar and sodium. Some are also higher in dietary fibre and calcium compared to other products in the same category. So, if you are dashing through the supermarket and want to pick the healthier choice with ease, you can confidently select items with this symbol

The Healthier Snack Symbol

Snacks that display this logo on their label are lower in fat, saturated fat, sodium, or sugar compared to regular products. They are also packaged in small, individual servings.

While the Healthier Choice Symbol and the Healthier Snack Logo draw your attention quickly to healthier food products, remember that all food must be eaten in moderation.